Congress left international adoptees behind: It's time we fix it

November is National Adoption Month, which America uses to raise awareness about the urgent need for adoptive and foster care families. As members of Congress, we want to use this month to celebrate those families who have adopted children, but also to highlight an unintended injustice that has befallen many international adoptees. There are currently thousands of adults who were adopted as children from around the world to the United States by American parents but were never granted U.S. citizenship.

Did you know that when an American citizen adopts a foreign-born child that child is not necessarily granted automatic American citizenship? It seems outrageous, but it is true. Parents could apply for citizenship for their child before they turned 18 under a lengthy separate process, but for many children – whether a parent died, the couple decided to divorce, or myriad other reasons – this never happened. Congress even acted to help correct that flaw in 2000 by enacting the Child Citizenship Act which enabled children adopted from abroad to more easily become citizens. However, many adoptees who had already aged into adulthood still found themselves in limbo and without citizenship. 

This has led to thousands of adoptees who grew up in American households believing all along that they too were Americans. They are adoptees with Social Security numbers, with driver’s licenses, and more, but who never knew that they had not been granted citizenship. They went to school in the U.S., began their families here, and started families of their own. Decades later, they continue to live in uncertainty. Everything from applying to jobs to accessing student financial aid is made more difficult or impossible. Their lack of citizenship precludes them from the most fundamental civic functions in our society like voting and serving as a juror.

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To solve this injustice for American families and adopted children, earlier this year we joined together and introduced the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019. Our bipartisan legislation provides long-awaited citizenship to these international adoptees by extending the policy of the Child Citizenship Act to those who had already turned 18 years old when the law was enacted. This is a common-sense action ensuring these international adoptees are treated the way they should have always been treated – as United States citizens.

We must come together to defeat the fallacy that adoptive children are any different from biological children. This injustice transcends party affiliation and is a problem that cannot wait. Time is running out for these thousands of adoptees, where each day is a struggle without citizenship or status. We can do better for these friends and neighbors of ours. 

As members of Congress, we were elected by our constituents from across the United States to come together and solve problems exactly like the ones these adoptees face on a daily basis. Let’s celebrate National Adoption Month by passing the Adoptee Citizenship Act to grant these Americans the citizenship they should have always had and the peace of mind that we all know they deserve.

Smith represents Washington’s 9th District and Woodall represents Georgia’s 7th District.